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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 16, 2006
Winchell is on the job
By Holly Grosch
VOORHEESVILLE Tuesday, Sarita Winchell returned to work.
State auditors completed their field work within Voorheesvilles school buildings, and cleared all current employees of any wrongdoing, school board President Joseph Pofit announced at Monday nights meeting. The school board unanimously reinstated Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell into active status.
She had been on administrative leave since the end of January which the board said it supported so that there could be no opportunity for allegations of the business manager impeding the investigations.
Those in the audience at Mondays meeting clapped when they heard Winchell was returning.
"I’m very much looking forward to coming back," Winchell said enthusiastically from her home later that evening. She didn’t want to comment on her opinion about being placed on leave in the first place. She also offered no comment on her thoughts about the allegations against previous Superintendent Alan McCartney and former Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano, two men whom Winchell had worked beside for many years. (See related story.)
Many things in Voorheesvilles business office has been reorganized since when Winchell was placed on paid leave, Pofit said. The district has been implementing recommendations given to it by the state and also outside consultants. Betty Curie of Advisory Solutions with the New York State School Boards Association submitted 50 recommendations in her report, most of which have already been implemented. And Henry Binzer, an accountant who used to be the head auditor for the State Education Department, helped implement Curiess suggestions.
Pofit said that Gordon Durnford, who was privately contracted to fill Winchells post while she was on leave, will have a few sessions with Winchell to orient her, so she can pick up where he left off.
When The Enterprise asked Winchell if she was concerned about adjusting to the changes, she responded, "I don’t think it will be hard at all; business is business and I’m very positive about it." She concluded, "I’m just happy."
Chris Allard, a bus driver for the district, said at Mondays meeting that the last few months have been very difficult at Voorheesville, and that employee morale is low. Every day, employees come into work not knowing what to expect, she said, with her boss, Transportation director, Michael Goyer, being questioned and files being pulled.
"It’s been terrible," Allard said.
Pofit said the school board had no control over who the Albany County District Attorneys investigator or what the state auditors wanted to look at.
The district attorneys office subpoenaed not only McCartneys and Marturanos contracts but Winchells and Goyers as well all the top administrators.
Pofit said that the school board and state auditors met together the comptrollers investigators prepared to leave the building after eight months. They will spend the next several months writing the report, Pofit said he was told. And then the district will have a chance to respond in writing to the findings before the final document is released to the public.
The final report is expected to be released this summer. But, the auditors have completed their review and data collection within the school board and told the school board they did not find any wrongdoing by any other administrator, Pofit said.
Allard said she wanted to make sure that got recorded in the minutes, that all others have been cleared by the comptroller, because a lot of good people were targeted in the auditing process, she said.
Jennifer Freeman, spokesperson for the comptrollers office, told The Enterprise on Tuesday that her office does not comment on the audits status until it is completely finished. While Pofit may have said that state auditors are out of the building, they are still completing the final report, and, until the final report is released, which is anticipated to take another couple of months, she said, she can not confirm one way or another if all others, or any other employees have been cleared.
Similarly, Rachel McEneny of the district attorneys office, said she could not answer any of the Enterprises questions since the criminal investigation is ongoing.
"This is my first involvement with the DA," Pofit said, and while the investigators are very thorough, they are also very quiet.
School board member James Coffin told a frustrated public on Monday night the way he looks at it is, in the absence of the comptroller coming to Voorheesville, "There’s a very good chance that nothing would ever have been found nothing." he said.
As a member of the community, as a member on the board, as a taxpayer "as difficult as it is, I want that kind of stuff happening," Coffin said of intense investigation. "Any organization worth its salt wants this stuff pulled out," and fixed, he said
And now, Coffin said, the school board is doing its darndest to fix the situation. What he asked of the public now is for residents to do their job. When looking at the budget this year, vote on the program for the children of the community, Coffin said. Come to the budget sessions, look at the budget, ask questions, he said. "That’s your check, that’s your responsibility."
During the public-comment segment of the board meeting, residents expressed their continued frustration to the board, feeling less informed than they would like to be.
At times, discussion became intense as people from the group asked questions about how mistakes happened in the past, who the school's attorney is, how checks were signed and approved, why it has been so hard for the newspaper to get a copy of the contracts, and why the contracts werent reviewed by an attorney.
"You’re missing the point," Pofit said, as people asked more questions about the contracts. What McCartney’s contract said is not what he ended up doing, Pofit said. "It’s not the contract"He did transactions that didn’t abide by his contract," Pofit said.
Coffin said one of the major changes which he thinks will make a world of difference is the two new positions of internal auditor and internal claims auditor, both who will report directly to the board.
"That was one of the weak links," Coffin said; things happened that didn’t come back to the board.
The internal auditor will be a direct employee of the board; the board can have the internal auditor look into anything review employee records to make sure they are up to date, look at a particular employee’s travel receipts. "This is a new process and a very important process," Coffin said.
The school board has also now designated the board president to act as a chief financial officer (CFO) a new role that the board members have never taken on before, Pofit said. The superintendent is still considered the chief executive officer (CEO).
Pofit said the district has spent about $30,000 so far on litigation against McCartney and Marturano.
Contracts raise questions
By Holly Grosch
VOORHEESVILLE The long-awaited contracts for two top school administrators charged with wrong doing are in black and white, but the interpretation of them is gray.
After a series of freedom-of-information requests, which began at the end of January, the Voorheesville Central School District has finally released to The Enterprise the employment contracts of previous administrators Superintendent Alan McCartney and Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano.
The State Comptrollers Office has accused the men of improperly paying themselves money in extra benefits, and the Voorheesville School Board has sued the former administrators, to try to force McCartney and Marturano to return money to the district.
The Comptroller claims McCartney made questionable payments to himself totaling $127,338 over 16 years, and Marturano improperly received $89,069 over 11 years time.
Marturano, the only one of the pair to speak to the press, has maintained he took only what he was entitled to and that the documentation, including contracts, will bear him out.
The biggest surprise among the small pile of contracts is that there are two contracts on file for McCartney dated Feb. 11, 2002; the school district and the State Comptrollers office have differing opinions on which one is valid.
The February, 2002 document is McCartneys last contract with the district, which carried his employment through to his retirement in the summer of 2005. Both contracts have attached to its back the same signature page, but information within the documents varies.
One of the two contracts has sections that are highlighted in bold face. This is the copy that Superitendent Linda Langevin said the district believes to be valid, because it lists the concluding date to be July, 1, 2005. The other contract has an employment-ending date of July 15, 2005.
The difference could be signifigant because McCartney claimed additional vaction dates with the start of the new fiscal year for schools beginning July 1.
When the school board approved McCartney’s 2002 contract, the minutes of that February meeting state that the board unanimously approved "the extension of the superintendent contract through July 1, 2005."
A May, 2002 Enterprise article states, "With the one-year contract extension McCartney will retire in three years on June 30, 2005."
It appears that, at that time, it was clear that McCartneys contract would to run out at the same time as the schools regular fiscal year on June 30.
The school board has said that it asked McCartney if he would work for an extra two weeks in July to help with the transition to the new superintendent, which he agreed to do. Langevin started work on July 1, 2005. She told The Enterprise this week that, when she arrived to work on her first day, McCartney was in their office sitting at his desk and announced that the computer had just crashed, erasing files.
When the state comptrollers auditors were doing a routine audit of the district, part of a five-year plan to audit all schools across New York over the next five years, they discovered the two February, 2002 contracts.
The district was not aware of two versions existing before that, Langevin said. She also stated that the district does not know how or when the one contract, valid until July 1, gained bolded font.
The school districts attorney in the pending lawsuit, Dennis Curtin, from a firm in Plattsburgh, told The Enterprise that legally there cannot be two contracts at the same time.
No other copies of the contract can be found, Langevin said. The only two copies in the districts possession at the time of the audit were found in McCartneys folder in his office, Langevin said.
From now on, contracts will be attached to the filed minutes of meetings in which they are ratified, Langevin said.
Unfortunately, the school districts attorneys did not have any versions, she said, because the board found out in retrospect that they were not reviewed by the schools attorney as they had thought. Also, no board member retained a copy for himself, Langevin said.
Langevin said on Tuesday that even the Teachers Retirement System has the same two versions that the district discovered they had, with bolded face and all.
Langevin said she believes the contract with the July 1 concluding date to be the valid document.
McCartney nor his attorney returned phone calls from The Enterprise this week. McCartney previously told The Enterprise his lawyer had advised him not to speak to the press.
Jennifer Freeman of the state comptrollers office reported this week to The Enterprise that the state auditors recognized the 2002 contract with the concluding date of July 15 because it most matched the actual practices of the school.
The defining clause for the auditors was that the non-bolded version listed 35 days of vacation as McCartneys allotment per year, which is what the district had been using in practice, she said.
The auditors are of the opinion that, when the district negotiated the 2002 contract, it had at the time planned ahead and anticipated wanting a transition time to a new chief officer, so it took that into account when it wrote the contract to conclude on July 15.
The auditors are now of the opinion that McCartney worked an extra two weeks beyond the close of the fiscal school year because that was in his contract rather than believing McCartney worked an extra two weeks beyond his contract.
Freeman added that the states auditors had recommended to Voorheesville, in order to avoid a situation like this in the future, it should have the districts attorney review the contract, so this type of thing ahead of time can be resolved.
Difference in 2002 contracts
The contract with the ending date of July 15 states that, if the board wants to extend the contract, it has to be decided no later than March 30, that McCartney has 35 days of vacation, and that the indemnification clause of the contract shall survive the term and be enforceable after the termination of the agreement.
The contract with the ending date of July 1 states that, if the board wants to extend the contract, it must be done by no later than April 30, that McCartney is entitled to 40 days of vacation a year, and the sentence about indemnification surviving past the dates of the agreement is completely gone; instead the page has an unexplained space, a line skip that does not fit with the rest of the documents format.
The clauses on sick leave and compensation are the same in each contract.
So why does it matter if the contract ended on the July 1 or 15" Because a new school fiscal year in the state’s school calendar begins on July 1, and, each fiscal year, employees receive new benefits.
Langevin said, if the contract did go into the next fiscal year, then some new benefits would kick in.
Curtin, the lawyer representing Voorheesville, said that, while the board had verbally agreed to allow McCartney to work into July, the board is of the opinion that the position is prorated. A superintendent would not receive all his vacation up front but, instead, it would be prorated proportionately, according to the length of time he worked.
There is no written contract or agreement between the board and McCartney laying out the stipulations of the two weeks of additional work.
When asked if the old contract has run out but an employee has continued working with verbal permission, does the old contract continue if a new one isnt drafted, Langevin said that it would, and typically the employee is paid by the day.
Since McCartney did work into a new fiscal year, regardless of the July 1 or July 15 ending date of his 2002 contract, his work would fall under his existing contract either way.
Neither contract explicitly states how the vacation days are allocated.
Langevin said that, if the contract does not explicitly say "credited," meaning everything up front, then days are automatically accrued.
Maturano still asserts to The Enterprise that he has not done anything that is not permitted by his contracts.
A December, 1999 memorandum of agreement which the school board resolved on Dec. 6 of that year gives Marturano a $6,667 stipened for each of the last three years of his employment, which amounts to an extra $20,000 under a clause that states the extra money to his base salary is for unused sick days. Under this clearly written memorandum of agreement it seems that Marturano would be entitled to this money, which is part of the total sum the board is now trying to get back.
The school board has all along admitted that it approved this stipend and a similar one for McCartney spread over the last three years of employment for both men.
Curtin, the school districts attorney for the lawsuit, told The Enterprise this week, that the board is arguing that Marturano was not entitled to that money because the board was misled by McCartney and Marturano to believe they were entitled to money for unused sick leave, when they actually were not.
Marturano told The Enterprise that that the allegation that he had coerced the board is totally unfounded because he had never discussed with the board as a whole his contract.
Marturano said he had wanted to settle his final contract in anticipation of retirement months earlier than December of 1999 but the board wanted to wait until it had settled on the administrators contract with the administrative bargaining unit, which was negotiated by two board members of a subcommittee.
Shortly after the administrative contracts were settled, a package was offered to him through the superintendent, Marturano said. And that agreement reflects what was in the administrative contract, he said.
"I never in the process talked to the board of education as a whole," Marturano said, so the assertion that the board was under his corrupt influence "doesn’t make any sense," Marturano said.
The school boards lawsuit against Marturano also claims that he owes the district money because one of the stipulations of the stipend for unused sick days, the stipend that they believed the board says it was coerced into, is that, if Marturano did not retire at the end of the school year of 2001-02, he was required to pay back the stipend.
The 1999 agreement states that, if Marturano continues his employment "after the retirement date, he would be required to repay 100 percent of the stipend with a penalty of 9 percent interest compounded per year by September 1st."
The school and Marturano disagreed on his official termination date.
All the 1999 memorandum of agreement says is that Marturano desires to retire at the end of the 2001-02 school year but does not list an explicit date. The school takes the position that his retirement date is the last day of the 2002 fiscal school year, meaning June 30 or July 1st, while Marturano says it was clear all along that his retirement date was to be at the start of August. He said when that, December, 1999 agreement was approved by the school board, it also approved at that time, his August retirement date. So, Marturano said, it is completely bogus that he worked an extra month.
The Enterprise has filed a freedom-of-information request for the minutes of the meeting, to which it is entitled, but has not yet been given a copy.
McCartneys sick days
While McCartneys final contract in 2002 does not reference a stipend as Marturanos final agreement does, all the board members agree and previous Enterprise articles confirm that in calculating McCartneys salary for the last three years of his employment, the district gave him extra raises because of all the sick time he had accumulated and not used.
School board President Joseph Pofit has said that McCartney represented to the board that incorporating pay compensation into his salary over three years would be more cost efficient for the district than paying out one large lump sum for unused sick days at the end of his employment. He also led the board to believe it could have a lawsuit on its hands because of all the money it owed him, $100,000, Pofit said
The school board claims now that McCartney, like Marturano, was never entitled to financial compensation for unused sick days and that board members were misinformed by the chief officers they trusted.
McCartney in his 16 years with the school district had three main contracts, which were at various times extended until a new one was drafted.
His first contract in 1989 allocated him 20 days of sick leave "upon commencement of employment with the district." The superintendent will be given an additional seven-and-a-half days of sick leave every six months, part B of the sick leave benifits says. And part C allows McCartney to accumulate and carry over throughout his employment a total of 220 days to be used in any year. There is no mention in 1989 of McCartney being paid for unused sick days.
McCartneys September, 2000 contract states that he has accumulated 175.5 sick days thus far, that he can accumulate up to 240 days to use whenever, and that he will continue to receive another seven-and-a-half days of sick leave every six month as he had before.
The most noteworthy clause under sick benefits in the 2000 contract is a new section, part D, which says that the superintendent in the future may receive payment for unused sick days to be added to the final years salaries. But, this clause has a series of blank spaces in it; how much payment McCartney is to receive and for how many sick days, is left blank, with directions in parentheses stating that this is still yet to be determined within that 2000-01 school year.
The contract states, "Payment for up to ___ days of unused sick leave times his daily be (sic.) rate of pay up ___ may be added to the Superintendent’s salary during the final __ years of his employment."
No contract amendment, as anticipated from this clause, is attached. The 2000 contract was written to last until June 30, 2004, but the next document, which is McCartneys last contract, is dated February, 2002 and was in effect until his retirement in summer of 2005.
This final 2002 contract, under sick benefits no longer mentions anything about being paid for unused sick time. However, the school board openly stated at the time and still does now that this contract gave McCartney large raises with the intent to compensate him for unused sick days. Raises are evident under the compensation section of this 2002 contract, but there is no direct reference in the written document as to the reason for the raises.
McCartneys salary in the 2001-02 school year, according to the 2000 contract, was $111,405. Then, with the February, 2002 contract, the public saw a huge salary increase for the 2002-03 school year of about $20,000 more, bringing McCartneys salary to $131,210. For 2003-04, his salary was $136,217 and in 2004-05, it was $141,434.
Members of the Voorheesville Taxpayers Association questioned the large raises in 2002 during budget time and The Enterprise wrote about it. Board members were quoted saying that McCartney had accumulated $100,000 worth of sick leave in his tenure, and, in an effort to keep him on, the board was able to negotiate taking some of the sick leave into the schedule and McCartney then generously cleared the rest from the slate.
This January, however, the board alleged that McCartney manipulated board members into agreeing to this 2002 contract. It appears that the board members had already been considering paying McCartney for unused sick leave in the 2000 contract, so by 2002 it would not have come as a surprise to them.
Attorney Curtin emphasized this week that nowhere in any of McCartney's contracts does it state the district will pay him any amount of money for unused sick time. This is true.
When pointing out that the 2000 clause gives the impression that the board intended to eventually pay McCartney for used sick time, Curtin said that the school is taking the position that McCartney had misled them early on and then continued to do so.
Langevin and Curtin both said that any provision can be placed in a contract; theres no limitation to what two parties can agree on. They are not saying that payment for sick leave is an unpermissible clause for a contract, but that payment given for sick leave in this case is improper because the board agreed to it under the pretense of believing that it already owed it to them, when it did not, said Curtin. The board didnt agree to it on its own merits but through coercion, Curtin said.
On Wednesday, Jennifer Freeman, the spokesperson for the State comptrollers Office, relayed information to The Enterprise from the auditors that are handling Voorheesvilles review.
"Auditors didn’t take issue with McCartney’s stipend because he complied with the board’s agreement," Freeman said.
In his findings released in January, Assistant Comptroller Steven Hancox listed separately in chart form Marturanos and McCartneys alleged inappropriate and improper payments. Marturanos $20,000 stipend for sick leave is listed as inappropriate. This is the only mention in the report of payment for sick days. McCartneys salary increase in his last three years is not mentioned at all in the comptrollers report.
The auditors took issue with this $20,000 payment not because Marturano was not entitled to payment for sick days but because he did not comply with the agreement that permitted it, Freeman said. He did not comply with the stipulation that, if he worked for the district past June 30, he would have to pay back all the stipend money, Freeman said; this is why auditors identified it as an inappropriate benefit, because he did not return the money.
She added, because Marturano did work July through August, he possibly could have received other additional benefits.
Also, asked about the blank spaces in McCartneys 2000 contract for potential future payment for unused sick days, Freeman said that the state auditors did review this, but it had no impact on the final findings because the school did not pay McCartney for unused sick time. The potential intention to do so does not impact the findings, she said.
Of the $216,000 of questionable payments identified by the State Comptrollers Office, the majority of the money is in relation to payment for unused vacation days.
About $120,000 in allegedly excessive payments for unused vacation days, and about $40,000 is identified as unused vacation-day payments that the administrators were entitled to by their contracts, but they did not give proper notification to receive.
The state comptroller alleges that McCartney, over 16 years, collected payment for 135 unused vacation days beyond what he was entitled to, and that Marturano, over 11 years, collected 92.5 unused vacation days beyond what he was entitled to.
By just simply looking at the contracts, it is not possible for The Enterprise to prove or disprove this. A full investigation into how many vacation days the men requested for and what days they werent at work but didnt request, would be needed, which the comptrollers staff has already done and the district attorneys office is currently looking into.
Ninety of the 227 vacation days identified as excessive, the administrators collected payments for in the last month of their employment.
The debate to be decided in the states Supreme Court for the civil suit is whether or not their contracts intended for yearly vacation days to be collected up-front, or to be prorated through the year.
In 1989, McCartney was given 20 days of vacation and in his contract promised that each year after that, he would get the starting 20, plus one additional day, so that, in four more years, he would receive 24 days of vacation.
Up to 10 days were allowed to be carried over to the next year, and up to five could be exchanged for cash in June, but, if he intended to do so, he must give the school board notice of this in May.
The 1989 contract also said that, if the superintendent had unused vacation days at his retirement, he would be paid the daily rate of his last salary for those days. This clause disappeared in the 2000 contract but reemerged in the 2002 contract.
The 2000 contract notes that McCartney has 31 days of vacation now, 11 more, one per year since 1989. The contract still permits vacation days to be carried over. However, how many is unclear due to a typographical error. The contract reads "ten," written out as a word, and then next to it in number form is "15." Up to 10 vacation days can be exchanged for money in June, the contract states, only now McCartney would have to tell the business office, rather than the school board, of his intent to do so in May. There is a new clause in 2000 that says accumulated vacation days beyond 40 must be cashed in or used, so the superintendent is unable to accumulate vacation days as he is able to do with sick days. The superintendent could have up to 240 sick days accumulated.
By 2002, the contract continues to offer the one-more-vacation-day- per-year clause, meaning McCartney now has 35 vacation days. This new agreement clearly reads that 15 days (written out and in number form) can carry over to the next year.
And the contract now simply states unused vacation days can be exchanged for cash as long as McCartney notifies the business office. This exchange clause no longer limits how many unused vacation days can get cashed in (it used to be 10), and also doesnt say by what date McCartney has to notify the business office, as regulated before. Also the maximum limit of 40 accumulated vacations days is not listed anymore .
The regulations of this 2002 contract is more slack.
Marturanos permitted vacation days, according to his 1990 contract, is similar to McCartneys agreements. At first, he was given 20 days and then one more per each year after that, 10 were permitted to be carried over, and only five were allowed to be cashed in June as long as he told the board in May. When the job terminates, he is to be paid in cash for all the accrued vacation time, paid at the daily rate of the last years salary. However there is a limit as to how many vacation days can be cashed in, in the last year, because there is a limit to how many days could have been carried each year, which is different than the sick-leave stipulations.
When the superintendent continued to work into July to help with the transition to a new superintendent, he accrued an extra 35 days of unused vacation leave and was paid $20,600 for not using them, as if he had worked the entire fiscal year, Hancox letter states.
The comptrollers office is of the opinion that McCartney was entitled to receive new benefits with the start of the new school fiscal year, but they should have been prorated, Freeman said this week.
Similarly Marturano had worked into July before leaving the district and he, too, auditors say, took another full allotment of vacation days, 30, for his one month of work.
The contracts dont explicitly say how a years worth of vacation days is to be allocated. The sick-leave benefits state the collection of seven-and-a half more days every six months, but the vacation section of the contract does not say how the vacation days are to be divided throughout the year.
Langevin and Curtin agree with the state auditors that each years vacation benefits should be prorated.
As for the allegation of the administrators not properly notifying the board of their intent to take the permitted payments for vacations, Hancox wrote that they should have informed the school board as their contracts stipulate.
However, while McCartneys 1989 contract does state notification must be made to the school board, all of his contracts from 2000 on say he is to notify the business office of his intention and there is no reference to the board of education.
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